Barley: Origins and Development

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Basic Species Information

Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) Poaceae derives from the Old English baere related in origin to the Latin farina or flour (Ayto 1990) and is known variously as da mai (China), orge (French), gerste (German), orzo (Italian), and cebada (Spanish) (van Wyk 2005). Barley is a major crop in global agriculture. Modern statistics (e.g., from indicate that barley production globally follows only wheat, rice, and maize. Barley can be turned into breads and porridges, as well as beers and whiskies.

Barley was one of the founder crops of early agriculture in Southwest Asia and parts of the earliest farming systems that spread across Neolithic Europe, North Africa, and the Indus Valley. Its wild progenitor is Hordeum spontaneum K. Koch, which occurs widely in the eastern Mediterranean eastwards to Central Asia in the open woodland steppe through to the taller grass steppe zone (Hillman 2000; Harris 2010). Wild populations further west,